Climate sense from The Australian
The science on global warming is certainly not settled
DELIGHTED doomsayers who applauded the announcement last week that an ice sheet on the west Antarctic cost was collapsing should leave the champagne on ice. Because, as Greg Roberts reports in The Weekend Australian, it appears everything is icier in most of Antarctica. This is not to deny that other parts of the planet appear to be warming up, or even to argue against the orthodoxy that human activity is responsible. But every warning of what global warming will lead to is not inevitably accurate. As Adelaide geologist and Eureka Prize winner Ian Plimer points out in an interview with Jamie Walker in the paper this morning, predictions of what will happen to the planet under a range of climate conditions to come will not necessarily occur simply because they are predicted by computer models. As any economist will explain, models deliver on the data provided by the programmers. "Garbage in, garbage out" as one anonymous expert famously put it. And as our understanding of the environment changes, so will what we expect to happen. "Always changing the future is" as a famous, if fictional, futurologist says.
For environmental activists, any suggestion prophecies of planetary peril should be considered carefully is heresy. Climate change doubters are apologists for Western consumer lifestyles that produce the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, they argue. But there is more sociology than science in such suggestions. For people who believe it is wrong for all Australians to have electricity when many Africans do not, global warming is a statement of faith. Many scientists are equally upset, saying the evidence is in and people who question the cause and effect of global warming should defer to those who have done the work. The problem is, as Professor Plimer demonstrates, expert irritation does not disguise the fact that the science is anything but settled. Atmospheric scientists dominate the global warming debate, he says, and their focus on carbon dioxide emissions excludes other disciplines and obscures other issues that may describe what is going on and why.
Perhaps scientists who say there is a 90 per cent certainty that global warming is human-induced are correct. But as Professor Plimer argues, such claims are impressive-sounding figures of speech - scientists can believe them, but they do not know. No one does. This is not to deny the need for ever-more research on global warming or the case for development of economically sustainable sources of alternative energy. In Australia there is bipartisan support for both. But to assume we know how much the planet will warm this century and what effect this will have is a matter of faith, not reason. And faith-based research is less science than secular religion.
Read it here.